A Repository of Research

How the Center for Academic Innovation Enhances Academic Excellence

Medieval social justice. Parkinson’s. Dolphins.

For decades, Saint Mary’s College has garnered attention for its research discoveries. A national magazine wants an expert to talk about bat migration? Call professor Laura Kloepper. Curious about how images from the classical and medieval periods have been misappropriated by today's extremist movements? Professors Jessalynn Bird and Sarah Noonan can provide perspective. 

From retired parasitologist and professor Thomas Platt and his discovery of a digenetic trematode he named Baracktrema Obamai, to the ongoing work in the study of childhood communication disorders by speech language pathology professor Susan Latham, the College has never faltered in its quest for greater understanding across academic disciplines. Yet the College was challenged to provide a formal structure for cross-discipline interaction on research and pedagogy between faculty outside of those that develop organically among them.  These have served the faculty well, but with the increased volume and interest in research, it was time to put in place an intentional and well-planned support structure in place. 

Today, the Center for Academic Innovation (CFAI) is doing just that. Provost Titilayo Ufomata explains that even though the CFAI has been in place at Saint Mary’s for several years, its scope was limited.

“The primary driver to reimagine the CFAI is that we had a big gap in our operations and support for faculty,” she said. “We did not have a place for them to go to seek help with their teaching and research.”

In its earlier stages, the CFAI was primarily used to filter and manage internal research grants. The new vision is much more expansive. In creating this space, Ufomata said students and faculty will be equally supported. Its new location on the third floor of the Cushwa-Leighton Library is part of the plan. Here, the CFAI is close to the College's main information resource and instructional technology, as well as the Writing Center. It is organized to be sustainable under the executive supervision of the Associate Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies, Colleen Hoover.

“We are creating a ‘learning commons’ for the entire campus,” Ufomata said “By creating this space,that supports teaching, learning and research in the same library building where we house information technology and resources as well as instructional technology. We also house a 24-hour study space for students in the same facility.”

Terri Hebert began her role as the CFAI director on August 17. The renovation of the space in Cushwa-Leighton Library began prior to her arrival, but she has already seen an explosion of use. Students come in to study; faculty have meetings. It can also be used for teaching, celebrations, and other programs that aid learning. 

“We still maintain and manage internal grants,” Hebert said. “We’ll also connect different centers throughout the College and expand funding in ways that make sense.”

If a faculty member or student wants to fund a research or programming project, they would visit CFAI as a first step. Hebert and her team will brainstorm a funding source and work with the researcher on the grant application. Similarly, if they learn of a funding source, they will send a request for proposal to faculty and students. In addition to on-campus grant partners, “We are always looking for ways we can collaborate with other universities or organizations,” Hebert said. 

Ufomata explained, “This new CFAI is different in that we did not just create a space, we hired professionals to support the work so that it is sustainable and does not disappear once the person who has the idea leaves, as happened in the past,” she said. “We appointed two faculty fellows for the same reason and placed supervision of the CFAI under the associate provost who is typically a tenured faculty member.”

Hebert is in the process of creating workshops, panels, and symposium opportunities. As she evaluates the most critical needs, she relies on the clarity provided by two faculty fellows who have recently been elected. 

Laura Elder, associate professor in the Department of Global Studies, serves as CFAI research fellow, and Katherine Higgs-Coulthard, assistant professor, in the Department of Education, s as CFAI pedagogy fellow.

It has been well received, Hebert said. 

“What I’m finding is that personal approach from faculty-to-faculty is really making a difference. Rather than the information coming from some director, it helps faculty feel more connected when another faculty member is included.” 

Why do colleges and universities need a research center? Ufomata has ideas about that. “A robust research portfolio means that faculty can create, develop, implement and disseminate their ideas while at the same time, carry students along in a hands-on apprenticeship that prepares them for work after college.”

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